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"Rule of Thumb"

by Sean Smith

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Edward 02:59
What's that blood all on your shirt Son, come tell to me? It is the blood of my own greyhound He wouldn't run with me, with me He wouldn't run with me But it's too red for your greyhound's blood Son, come tell to me It is the blood of my own gray mare She wouldn't hunt with me, with me But it's too pale for your gray mare's blood Son, come tell to me It is the blood of my own dear brother He wouldn't ride with me, with me And what were you two a-quarreling about Son, come tell to me? It's all about a little holly bush And it might've made a tree, a tree And what will you do when your father comes to know Son, come tell to me? I'll sail away in a little sailing boat And I'll sail across the sea, the sea And what will you do with your pretty little wife Son, come tell to me? She'll come along in my little sailing boat And she'll sail along with me, with me And what will you do with your eldest son Son, come tell to me? I'll leave him here for you to raise And to rock all on your knee, your knee And when will you come back again Son, come tell to me? When the sun and the moon are on yonder hill And I know that will never be, never be
In Thornaby Woods in Nottinghamshire Right fa-la-la, right fal day In Thornaby Woods in Nottinghamshire Right fal-the-lar-a-lay Three keepers houses they stood three square About a mile from each other they were Their orders was to look out for the deer Right fal-the-lar-a-lay Well me and me dogs we went out one night The moon and stars all shining bright Over hedges, ditches, fields and stiles With my three dogs all at my heels To catch a buck in the Thornaby fields That very first night we had bad luck For one of me very best dogs got shot He come to me so bloody and lame How sorry was I for to see the same Him not being able to follow the game Looked at his wounds and I found them slight Done by some keeper out of spite I'll take my pike staff in my hand And I'll search the woods 'til I find that man Tan his old hide right well I can Then I went home and I went to bed And Limping Jack went in me stead He searched the woods all round and round Till he found a buck lying on the ground My little dog gave the death wound We found a butcher to skin the game Likewise another to sell the same The very first joint that we made for sale It was to some woman who sold bad ale She had us off to the Nottingham Gaol Now Nottingham assizes are drawing nigh And us three chaps have got to be tried Oh the gentlemen laughed them all to scorn That such an old bugger should be foresworn All into small pieces she should've been torn Now Nottingham assizes are over and past And us three chaps we got free at last Now the bucks and does shall ne'er go free For a-poaching is the life for me And a poacher I will always be
Alexander 02:54
Oh, it’s don’t you know the reason, love, this night that I am here? It is in order to obtain the love of you, my dear. Your sweet celestial charms have wounded quite my brain, Your skin is whiter than the swan swims o’er yon purling stream. You are tall, genteel and handsome, you are modest, mild and free And as the lodestone varies you draw the heart from me. The reason my love scorns me it is because I'm poor But I have all that I'm allowed I cannot ask for more. She thinks she’s of a noble birth, me of a mean degree, But I am come from Adam’s race, my dear, as well as thee. Don’t fix your mind on riches, love, nor such yon worldly store But think on Alexander and you’ll love me all the more. For when he'd conquered all the world he sat down and wept full sore For there was just but the one world and he could gain no more. I will travel to Mount Hareb where Noah’s ark does stand, Likewise to Mount Albareen wall for to view the land. I never will quit roving as long as I've a shoe And like some wounded lover, my dear, I'll mourn the loss of you. To his sorrowful lamentations, to her true love she gave ear, She took him in her arms and embraced him as her dear. And now they have got married, the truth I will unfold Her father has bestowed on them 500 pounds in gold.
CH: Farewell, farewell, green shores of Fogo And farewell, Katie, true and kind Where'er I go, I'll be true to you When old Fogo I leave behind Our ship she leaves the morning early Cross the ocean for to go And Katie so full of sorrow It's more than I want you to know For many years I've worked this land Underneath the cold, dark sky Now every breeze blowing from the hillside Is asking me the question "Why?" Now Katie, leave off of your grieving Don't be downhearted 'cause of me It's my fortune that I'm seeking In that land across the sea Sometimes she changes just like the weather Sometimes we never can agree Sometimes laughter and sometimes sadness She's a mystery to me Oh this world it's so uncertain What can happen we do not know Perhaps someday I will return here If that's the way the wind does blow There's a cloud of sorrow hanging o'er me And there's a weight upon my mind But I know someone loves me truly In old Fogo I leave behind
You single men I pray Come listen to me lay And I'll tell to you the truth if I can And you bide what do I say If attention that you pay A woman is the plague upon the man When for breakfast you arrive Light the fire you must strive And wash every pot and every pan How I wish that I was dead Since the day that I was wed A woman is the plague upon the man CH: Oh the poor man's toil is never done For to keep his family decent if he can But when you take a wife You wed yourself to strife A woman is the torment of a man But only see them when they're young For they speak with angel's tongues To trap you they will try all they can And once the wedding's past Why, that's when they have you fast A woman is the heartbreak of a man For to a neighbor's house she'll roam And never stay at home Clashing and back-biting is her plan Thus tortured is the man Who would join in wedlock's band A woman is the heart of a man CH And if you chance to speak Why your head she'll surely break With the first thing that she gets into her hand With a beedle or a ladle She'll club you ere she's able And this is the comfort of a man And for drink I do declare She will strip the house quite bare Blankets, sheets, pots and kettle she will pawn And morning, noon and night She will rage and scold and fight And this is the comfort of a man CH Well I think that it is time To conclude my little rhyme And women, I would have you understand There is nothing through your life Like a kind and gentle wife To provide for the comfort of a man So let's be kind unto our wives And lead contented lives And strive to keep them happy Through our life For I'd have you understand That happy is the man That's blessed with a decent sober wife CH
Burd Helen was her mother's dear And her father's heir all for to be And he was laird of the Broughty Walls And the provost of Dundee Burd Helen she was much admired By all the men both far and near But it was Glenhazlen who did vow He alone would be her dear Glenhazlen he was a comely youth He was so handsome, brisk and gay But jealous thoughts come unto his mind He vowed he'd steal poor Helen away It fell upon one Christmas Day Burd Helen she was left alone All for to guard her father's towers They stood two miles all from the town Glenhazlen he's to the Broughty Walls He was thinking all to win in But the wind it blew and the rain it fell And it wet him to the skin "Oh who is this?" cries Burd Helen "Oh who does knock all at my door?" "We are but travelers passing by Let us in for the wind blows o'er." Now he was very well entertained Both for his bed and for his board But he sent his men to Helen's room Well armed they were with spear and sword And they've hurried her along with them They've locked up all her maids behind They threw the key out o'er the wall That none this plot might find They've hurried her along with them It's over many's the rock and glen But all that they might say or do From weeping she wouldn't refrain "Oh the highland hills, they're high, high hills Oh the highland hills, they are so high And if you would my favor gain Take me back to sweet Dundee!" Well it fell upon one summer's day When they all went out for to take the air She's threw herself into the stream Against wind and despair Well it was so deep that he couldn't wade in And ne'er the boat it was to be found So he's leaped in all after her And he sank down like a stone She's kilted up her green clothing Oh a little above her knee And it's never rest nor was undressed Until she reached again Dundee "Oh this I've learned at the Broughty Walls At Broughty Walls near sweet Dundee That if water was my prison strong I would swim for liberty"


"A lovely collection of vocal tracks...Definitely worth checking out."
--Dan Neely, The Irish Echo

Over the past several years, I’ve made increasing use of the thumb-picking guitar technique to the point where it’s become a major part of my repertoire, so I thought I’d devote an album to it. My style is mostly two-finger, which I didn’t so much learn as acquire over time and by happenstance. In any case, the method often lends itself to a syncopated, bluesy-type accompaniment, and I rather like that. Three of the songs here are ones I started playing during this recent period; “Thornaby Woods,” "Farewell to Fogo" and “Broughty Walls” have been in and out of my life for decades now.

About the songs:

EDWARD: A murder ballad learned from the singing of Nic Jones, one of the giants of thumb/finger-style guitar, of course. There are many variants throughout the British Isles and elsewhere, among them “My Son David,” “Son Come Tell It Unto Me,” “Two Turtle Doves,” “What Put the Blood?” and “Lucy Wan,” that have been collected far and wide, including by Francis J. Child in his famous anthology.

THORNABY WOODS: This is a poaching song from Nottinghamshire, also known as “Thornymoor Woods,” I first heard sung by Roy Bailey. I originally played it in 6/8 using a plectrum, but eventually I found this unsatisfying, so I switched to thumb-picking and mucked about with the time signature.

ALEXANDER: From the repertoire of the inimitable Eddie Butcher, a traditional singer from County Derry in Northern Ireland.

FAREWELL TO FOGO: A reworking of "The Green Shores of Fogo," a traditional song from Newfoundland to which I added some new verses and a different melody.

A WOMAN IS THE TORMENT OF A MAN: Found the words to this whiner of a song on a website of old broadsides and street ballads from the British Isles – in this case, Scotland. I adapted a barn dance from County Kerry for the melody. Obligatory disclaimer: The views expressed in the song are not those of the person singing it, etc.

BROUGHTY WALLS (or “Broughty Wa’s”): No. 258 in the Child Ballads collection, alternately titled “Burd Helen.” Scottish heiress gets carried off by presumptuous would-be suitor who – fortunately for her – lacks essential swimming skills. I slightly altered some of the lyrics and devised the tune, which I think sounds more American than Scottish, but whattaya gonna do. Some of the guitar work here may have been, or probably was, inspired by Leo Kottke.


released November 6, 2017

This was entirely a D-I-Y endeavor, so there's nobody to blame except me.


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Sean T. Smith Boston, Massachusetts

Sean Smith has been playing folk music since his teens, with a focus on the traditions of Ireland, Scotland and England in particular. He's been active in the Greater Boston music scene since the early '80s, and been part of numerous collaborations. He also writes about music for the Boston Irish Reporter, helps organize an annual Celtic music festival, and has been known to drink Ballantine Ale. ... more

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